Drug resistant tuberculosis (TB) is becoming an increasing problem around the world. According to the World Health Organization, in 2011, 8.7 million people fell ill with TB and 1.4 million died from the disease. Over 95 percent of the deaths are in third world and developing countries.
Between 1990 and 2011, the number of deaths from TB decreased by more than 40 percent. The increase in the number of drug resistant cases of tuberculosis however, has caused concern in the medical community and the cost of drugs and shortages has been a growing issue. Currently, it is estimated that there are over 650,000 people suffering from this type of tuberculosis.
In an article printed in the journal “Nature Communications,” May 21, 2013 researchers from Albert Einstein School of Medicine at Yeshiva University in New York City, released the results of their work in treating drug resistant tuberculosis with vitamin C.
Scientists had noted that these drug resistant bacteria are lacking in a molecule mycothiol. The senior author of the study, William Jacobs, Professor of microbiology and immunology stated,“We hypothesized that tuberculosis bacteria that can’t make mycothiol might contain more cysteine, an amino acid. So, we predicted that if we added isoniazid and cysteine to isoniazid-sensitive Mycobacterium tuberculosis in culture, the bacteria would develop resistance. Instead, we ended up killing off the culture – something totally unexpected.”
“To test this hypothesis, we repeated the experiment using isoniazid and a different reducing agent – vitamin C. The combination of isoniazid and vitamin C sterilized the Mycobacterium tuberculosis culture. We were then amazed to discover that vitamin C by itself not only sterilized the drug-susceptible tuberculosis, but also sterilized multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis and extensively drug-resistant strains.”
What exactly happened in the experiment is that the vitamin C caused the production of free radicals that attacked the tuberculosis bacteria in the test tube. It was effective even against the bacteria that were resistant to traditional tuberculosis drug treatment. This opens the door to an alternative treatment that could possibly treat all forms of tuberculosis bacteria.
Professor Jacobs concluded by stating, “We don’t know whether vitamin C will work in humans, but we now have a rational basis for doing a clinical trial. It also helps that we know vitamin C is inexpensive, widely available and very safe to use. At the very least, this work shows us a new mechanism that we can exploit to attack tuberculosis.”
The fact that vitamin C is so readily available and affordable makes this study very important. There is also the fact that if it can be used against the tuberculosis bacteria, what other bacteria can it be used against? Is it possible that this vitamin may be the new wonder drug of the future? Only further tests will tell but the current results are promising.